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Intermediate B1

This intensive course is for language learners striving toward the B1 level. The language of instruction is Portuguese. I will speak in English only if need be.

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My suggestion for these two weeks is to focus on*:

  • Conversation
  • Listening comprehension
  • Reading comprehension
  • Compound tenses (Ter auxiliary) / Personal Infinitive / Imperative Mood / Present Subjunctive
  • Prepositional usage

*There's always room to adjust the course according to the group's preferences:

After this course, you'll have come closer to the B1 level and have the tools and strategies to get there and beyond.

Not sure if you should enroll in the A2 or B1 course?

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Beginners A2

This intensive course is for language learners striving toward the A2 level. The language of instruction is English/Portuguese typically in a 30/70 ratio. (I always speak with you in Portuguese as much as possible.)

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My suggestion for these two weeks is to focus on:

  • Listening comprehension
  • Oral interaction
  • Past tense (Perfeito vs. Imperfeito)
  • Prepositional usage
  • Any other aspects according to your preferences as a group

After this course, you'll have come closer to the A2 level and gained the tools to take it further all by yourself.

Not sure if you should enroll in the A2 or B1 course?

Take this placement test

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Beginners A1

This intensive course is for language learners striving toward the A1 level. The language of instruction is English/Portuguese typically in a 60/40 ratio. (I always speak with you in Portuguese as much as possible.)

If you've just started your learning journey, it may be that you will find this course a bit challenging. Nothing wrong with that. However, if you want to take it easy, consider enrolling for the Clean Slate A0 instead (if available).

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This is an all-round course, which means that we’ll work on all aspects of language learning according to the A1 level*:

  • Pronunciation
  • Listening comprehension
  • Reading comprehension
  • Conversation
  • Grammar

* There's always room to adjust the course according to your preferences as a group.

After this course, you'll have come closer to the A1 level and gained the tools to take it further all by yourself.

Not sure if you should enroll in the A1 or A2 course?

Take this placement test

Any questions?

Inquiry

Clean Slate A0

Geared toward Absolute Beginners, this course gives you a solid start and foundation to build upon. The language of instruction is almost entirely in English.

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This is an introductory course to the Portuguese language as spoken in Portugal. Throughout the course, we will focus on the Portuguese sound system and basic Portuguese grammar.

You will also learn how to introduce yourself and day-to-day, useful phrases. Finally, we will discuss learning resources and strategies to support your learning journey.

After the course, you will have a basic understanding of European Portuguese pronunciation and grammar. You will also be capable of engaging in simple, short oral interactions. Last but not least, you will be aware of a variety of learning resources and strategies to help you succeed at learning the language.

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Do you know what constipado means in Portuguese? Probably not what you are thinking...

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Struggling with Pronunciation?

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European Portuguese Pronunciation – Main Features

I often hear people say that Portuguese sounds are different from any other Romance language. And that’s because it’s true, really.

So, what is so special about European Portuguese pronunciation?

In short, European Portuguese pronunciation is characterized by an abundance of hushing, nasal, and close-vowel sounds. These phonetic traits make it reminiscent of Slavic languages, even though it is a Romance language.

Before we get into the main features of European Portuguese pronunciation, let’s take a moment to understand why pronunciation is so crucial for language learners.

Why you should care about your pronunciation

Clear pronunciation is vital to put all those insecurities away when speaking in your target language.

By feeling more confident in speaking Portuguese, you are also likely to engage more often in conversation. More speaking practice, in its turn, translates into progress toward a more articulate speech. It simply is a virtuous circle.

And yet, in my experience, students tend to prioritize grammar and vocabulary over pronunciation.

There is this widespread notion among language learners that pronunciation is something that naturally improves over time. Well, I’m afraid that is not the case. In fact, it might be quite the opposite.

You see, left to its own devices, an underperformed pronunciation is likely to settle in for good. The later you act upon it, the harder it will be to get to grips with it. Thus, it is wise to work on it right off the bat.

So, becoming acquainted with the Portuguese basic sounds is among the first things you want to do as you start your learning journey. It’s simple, your pronunciation skills are a function of your ability to reproduce those basic sound units.

Let’s now take a peek at common features of European Portuguese pronunciation.

Main features of European Portuguese pronunciation

On several occasions, I’ve heard people say that European Portuguese sounds like a cross between Spanish and Russian*!

At first, I took it as a joke. Then I gave it some thought and realized that this might well be the case for foreigners hearing the language for the first time.

Broadly speaking, one can say that European Portuguese has three kinds of sounds that stand out: (1) close-vowel sounds, (2) hushing sounds, and (3) nasal sounds.

*Learn more about phonological similarities between Portuguese and Russian: Here’s why Portuguese sounds like Russian.

Close-vowel sounds

You’ve probably noticed that the Portuguese language sounds less vibrant than other Romance languages, ​​such as Spanish or Italian, or even Brazilian Portuguese for that matter. This is mainly due to the high frequency of close-vowel sounds present in the spoken language.

See, Portuguese is a stress-timed language (as opposed to syllable-stressed languages), which means that the time gaps between stressed syllables are fairly consistent – this implies the reduction of unstressed syllables for them to fit into those fixed time slots.

In turn, syllable reduction of unstressed syllables results in close vowels and less clearly pronounced sounds compared to stressed syllables.

All in all, syllable reduction and close vowel sounds make understanding (and pronouncing) Portuguese more challenging than, say, Spanish.

This is the reason why many language learners have a hard time with their listening comprehension and pronunciation. However, that’s nothing listening practice and phonological awareness won’t fix.

Reading tips!
Improve Your Portuguese Listening Skills – Best Practices and Quality Resources

Fricative sounds

Fricative, hushing sounds (as in the word sheep) permeate the language.

In Portuguese, most nouns are pluralized by adding the letter s at the end, the so-called s-plural, which renders a hushing sound.

Also, the s-plural applies to articles, pronouns, and adjectives, thus adding to the prevalence of this fricative sound.

There are, too, several other spelling patterns that produce this hushing sound.

Nasal sounds

Nasal sounds, too, are a prominent phonological feature in Portuguese. We have both vowel nasal sounds and diphthong nasal sounds.

Vowel nasal sounds are not so alien to native English speakers. Words like among and amazing produce similar nasal sounds (so-called velar nasal sounds). Diphthong nasal sounds, on the other hand, might be more trying.

There you have it. These were the most dominant traits of European Portuguese pronunciation. If you want to dive deeper into the Portuguese sound system and thereby improve your pronunciation, I suggest that you give Portuguese Sounds a look.

Get Your Pronunciation Right

European Portuguese elemental sounds

In this section, we’ll go through the basic sounds of the Portuguese language. They are displayed according to the following subgroups:

Portuguese uses the same alphabet* like English, plus a few diacritical marks, namely 4 accent marks and the cedilla underneath the c (ç).

Now, the same sound can be represented by different letters or clusters of letters. Similarly, one letter can stand for several sounds. For instance, take the vowel e which stands for 5 different vowel sounds!

Thus, it is useful to use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) when going through language sounds. Why?

Well, each IPA symbol stands for one and only one sound – IPA is based on a 1-to-1 relationship between symbols and language sounds.

In the tables below, you’ll see IPA symbols in the first column representing the language sound in question. The second column shows the alphabet letters, or clusters of letters, that can stand for that same sound. Finally, in the third column, you have word examples for the sound and spelling in point.

*Learn more about the Portuguese alphabet and diacritics: The Portuguese Alphabet: Spelling in Portuguese from A to Z.

Consonant sounds

Most consonant sounds in Portuguese are also present in English (perhaps not the exact same sounds, but still very similar). Those sounds that have no equivalent in English are marked in red.

IPAspellingsexamples
/b/bbala (bullet)
/d/ddedo (finger)
/f/ffauna (fauna)
/g/g, gugato, gueto (cat, ghetto)
/k/c, qununca, quente (never, hot)
/l/llua (moon)
/ɬ/lmal (evil)
/ʎ/lhatalho (shortcut)
/m/mmala (briefcase)
/n/nnadar (swim)
/ɲ/nhninho (nest)
/p/ppata (paw)
/ɾ/rcaro (expensive)
/R/r, rrrio, terra (river, earth)
/s/s, ss, c, ç, xsanto, massa, cem, caça, próxima (saint, pasta/dough, hundred, hunt, next)
/ʃ/s, z, ch, xperas, capazchato, extinto (pears, capable, boring, extinct)
/t/tteto (ceiling)
/v/vvento (wind)
/z/s, z, xcasa, azeitona, exatamente (house, olive, exactly)
/ʒ/g, jgelado, janela (ice-cream, window)
/j/i, epai, passear (father, stroll)
/w/u, opau, voar (stick, fly)

Vowel sounds

In Portuguese, there are 9 different vowel sounds represented by the vowel letters a, e, i, o, and u. As mentioned before, the vowel e, alone, stands for 5 different sounds.

In general, Portuguese vowel sounds are not alien to English native speakers. It is difficult, however, to establish a definitive correspondence between the two languages due to different standards of English.

Let’s listen to what Portuguese vowels sound like:

IPAspellingsexamples
/a/a, áamar, cá (love, here)
/ɐ/a, esala, joelho (living room, knee)
/ɛ/e, éanel, até (ring, until)
/e/e, êcomer, Português (eat, Portuguese)
/ɨ/eparte (part)
/i/i, esorrir, emanar (smile, emanate)
/ɔ/o, óobra, avó (masterwork, grandmother)
/o/o, ôfervor, repôr (passion, replace)
/u/u, omudo, ato (mute, act)

Note that the vowel sounds /a/, /ɛ/, and /ɔ/ are open, whereas /ɐ/, /e/ or /o/ sound relatively closed; there is even the /ɨ/-sound which is nearly mute.

This openness vs. closeness sound contrast ties back into what was discussed above, namely the vowel reduction occurring in stress-timed languages like Portuguese.

Nasal vowel sounds

Portuguese nasal vowel sounds are similar to those in English, like in the words anger, kindness, and mantra.

IPAspellingsexamples
/ɐ̃/ã, am, anlãamplo, antes (wool, ample, before)
/ẽ/em, enembora, entretanto (though, meanwhile)
/ĩ/im, inimportante, introdução (important, introduction)
/õ/om, onombro, ponto (shoulder, point)
/ũ/um, unum, mundo (one, world)

Diphthongs

Diphthongs are gliding vowel sounds between two vowels. Again, you’ll find most Portuguese diphthongs in English.

IPAspellingsexamples
/aj/aipai (father)
/aw/auauxílio (help)
/ej/eifevereiro (February)
/oj/oiloiro (blond)
/ɔj/oicomboio (train)
/ow/ououtro (other)
/iw/iu, ioviu, violeta (saw, violet)
/je/ieespécie (species)
/wa/ua, oaágua, mágoa (water, sorrow)

Nasal diphthongs

Nasal diphthongs abound in Portuguese. They are often represented by a pair of vowels with a diacritical mark on top, the tilde.

These sounds are not found in English or many other languages. If that’s the case with your mother tongue, you might need some practice reproducing them until they become second nature to you.

IPAspellingsexamples
/ɐ̃j̃/ãemãe, pães (mother, breads)
/ɐ̃w̃/ão, amcão, cantam (dog, they sing)
/õj̃/õepõe, limões (put, lemons)

Spelling-pronunciation patterns

There is much to be said when it comes to Portuguese spelling-pronunciation patterns and, again, I will be using the IPA-symbols as we go through it (refer to the consonant table above for IPA-symbol–sound clarification).

Hard vs. soft vowels

In Portuguese, a, o, and u are “hard” vowels, whereas e and i are “soft”. This distinction is pertinent because some consonants will produce different sounds depending on if they are followed by soft or hard vowels. Let’s take a look at a few cases.

Letter C – /k/ vs. /s/

If the letter c is followed by a hard vowel – a, o, or u – it will produce the /k/-sound, as in copo (glass). If instead it is followed by a soft vowel – e or i – it will render the /s/-sound, as in cinto (belt).

Letter G – /g/ vs. /ʒ/

If g is followed by a hard vowel – a, o or u – it will produce the /g/-sound, as in gato (cat). If instead it is followed by a soft vowel – e or i – it will render the /ʒ/-sound, as in gelado (ice-cream).

Letters QU – /ku/ vs. /k/

If the letters qu are followed by a hard vowel – a or o – they will produce a /ku/-sound, as in quatro (four). If instead they are followed by a soft vowel – e or i – they will render the /k/-sound, as in querido (dear).

There are a few exceptions though. For instance, in the words tranquilo (tranquil) and cinquenta (fifty), that u is pronounced.

Letters GU – /gu/ vs. /g/

If the letters gu are followed by a hard vowel – a or o – they will produce a /gu/-sound, as in água (water). If instead they are followed by a soft vowel – e or i – they will only stand for a /g/-sound, as in guerra (war).

Again, there are a few exceptions. For example, in the word aguentar (endure), the u is not mute.

Digraphs

Digraphs are consonant pairs which stand for a specific sound. There are five of them in Portuguese.

SS

The double-s always appears stuck in between vowels and produces the same voiceless /s/-sound, as in ssaro (bird).

SS vs. S
If instead, it is a single-s that is stuck in between vowels, it will render a voiced /z/-sound, as in casa (house). Notice, however, that a single-s placed right at the beginning of a word always produces the voiceless /s/-sound, as in sapo (frog).

RR

The double-r always pops up stuck in between vowels and the sound it stands for is produced in the back of the throat, thus resulting in a guttural, rhotic sound – the /R/-sound – as in carro (car).

RR vs. R
The same /R/-sound is produced when a single-r initiates a word, as in rico (rich). A single-r stuck between vowels, on the other hand, produces the alveolar tap /ɾ/-sound, as in caro (expensive).

CH

The digraph ch always produces the same hushing /ʃ/-sound, as in chuveiro (shower). It is a common sound in English and in many other languages.

NH

The digraph nh always produces the nasal /ɲ/-sound, as in ninho (nest). This sound is not found in English.

LH

The digraph lh always produces the palatal /ʎ/-sound, as in velho (old). Oftentimes, students struggle with this sound. Maybe the following video will help:

QU/GU

Qu and gu are only considered digraphs when preceding a soft vowel, namely e or i.

In that case, the letter u in both qu and gu is soundless, meaning that qu and gu will then produce the /k/- and /g/-sound respectively, as in the words quente (hot) or guia (guide).

The omnipresent hushing /ʃ/-sound

As mentioned above, the hushing /ʃ/-sound is a hallmark of the Portuguese language. Here’s an account of the different spelling patterns that render this sound.

S-plural

Any word ending with the letter s produces the /ʃ/-sound. This will be the case for most plural nouns (e.g., casas), pronouns (e.g., elas), articles (e.g., umas), adjectives (e.g., verdes) and verb forms (e.g., somos).

S before a consonant

The /ʃ/-sound is produced every time the letter s comes right in front of a voiceless consonant, as in the words estou and espera.

CH and X

As we’ve seen above, the digraph ch always translates into a /ʃ/-sound. Also, the letter x predominately stands for this sound (more on x below).

Z at the end

Finally, any word ending with z, as in capaz, will produce the /ʃ/-sound on that same last syllable.

Letter X

The letter “X” stands for 4 different sounds and learners tend to complain about it, as they’ll often guess it wrong. There are a few patterns that can make your life easier in that regard. Let’s take a look at them.

Most commonly, the letter x produces the hushing /ʃ/-sound. As a matter of fact, all words starting with x render that sound, as in xadrez.

Also, whenever the x is right in front of another consonant, as in texto, the sound produced will be the same, that is, the /ʃ/-sound.

Things get a little more complicated when the letter x is stuck in between vowels. In that case, there are 3 possibilities and no definitive rules. Still, in most cases, it will render the above-mentioned /ʃ/-sound, as in Bruxa.

In other cases though, it produces a /ks/-sound. Most of the time, these words will have English cognates that are also pronounced with the same /ks/-sound. Take for instance the words xico (toxic) or fluxo (flux).

The letter x can also stand for the /z/-sound. Typically, these words also have English cognates*, but they render the /gs/-sound instead. Some examples are exótico (exotic) and executar (execute).

Finally, the letter x can stand for the /s/-sound. This, however, is rare and you should look at it more as an exception. The words próximo and ximo are two examples.

*Speaking of cognates, you may know more Portuguese words than you think you do. Here’s a read to make you realize just that: English-Portuguese Cognates – The Words You Already Know (Without Knowing It).

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